If you were a mound-building kind of guy or gal, looking for a place to live between AD 700 and AD 1200, Illinois was your place. The state had one of North America’s largest prehistoric civilizations at Cahokia, in the south near the Mississippi River.
Illinois emerged from the Civil War as an industrial state, proficient in steel-making, meatpacking, distilling and heavy manufacturing. This growth created great private wealth but also led to labor strife as workers – many of them European immigrants – struggled against low wages and poor conditions. Unions began forming in the mid-19th century, and violent strikes took place between 1877 and 1919. The state remains a union stronghold today.
The Prohibition era of the 1920s, when Al Capone and his gangster friends more or less ran things, corrupted the state’s political system. State government has been suspect ever since, and typically pits liberal, big-city Chicago against the more conservative downstate farming and manufacturing towns.